Science Books by Richard N. Boyd
Stardust, Supernovae, and the Molecules of Life
The mystery of how the chirality, or handedness, of the amino acids, the molecules from which our bodies create the proteins we need to exist, continues to stump scientists.
Experiments by Miller and Urey in the 1950s demonstrated that many of the 20 amino acids we need could be made by a spark discharge—lightning—in an appropriate chemical environment, suggesting that the molecules of life were created on Earth. However, meteorites that have hit the Earth have been found to contain amino acids, proving that they are also created in outer space.
The key in deciding if these molecules are home grown or are created in the cosmos may be their chirality, which can be either left- or right-handed. The amino acids in our bodies and also found in all living beings and in many other places on Earth are almost entirely left-handed, although equal numbers of left- and right-handed amino acids were created in the Miller-Urey experiment.
Interestingly, some of the meteoritic amino acids did have a preference for left-handedness, suggesting that their chirality was selected in outer space, and then enhanced following the arrival of the meteorite in which the amino acids were embedded. Various theories have been put forth to explain how Earthly amino acids came to be lefted-handed. It has been demonstrated that circularly polarized light can produce molecular chirality, although that theory is not without its difficulties.
Stardust, Supernovae, and the Molecules of Life describes, in terms for undergraduates or lay readers, several of the theories of chirality creation, along with a new one that was devised by Boyd, Kajino, and Onaka. The new model involves molecular chirality selection in the magnetic field and intense electron antineutrino flux produced as a massive star becomes a supernova. This model overcomes some of the difficulties of the circularly polarized light model. It has issues of its own, although these are currently under study by the group.
The book is about origins, so it not only describes how the amino acids might achieve their chirality, but also includes a chapter on the big bang and one describing how elements are made in stars. The final chapter has a section on extremophiles, whose existence supports the contention that the complex molecules of life can survive under a wide variety of conditions. The photo on the right shows Octupus Springs at Yellowstone National Park; the different colors represent the different life forms that can exist as the water that initially emerges from the small pond at 90 C cools.
But the book’s primary purpose is to present the evidence regarding how life on Earth began, and prepare the reader for future developments that will resolve that question. To order a copy of this book, check with Amazon for Stardust, Supernovae, and the Molecules of Life, by R.N. Boyd, Springer (2012).
An Introduction to Nuclear Astrophysics
Nuclear Astrophysics is the study of how all naturally occurring elements formed and evolved into our present universe via nuclear processes, beginning with the Big Bang and continuing today in astrophysical objects such as stars, x-ray bursters, and supernovae. Emerging from traditional studies in astrophysics and particle research, this cross disciplinary field touches upon astronomy, astrophysics, cosmology, and particle physics.
In An Introduction to Nuclear Astrophysics, the author includes basic nomenclature information so that students from astronomy or physics can quickly orient themselves in the material. Subsequent chapters describe worldwide Earthbound and space borne instruments operating in service to nuclear astrophysics; background topics such as nuclear and neutrino physics; scattering formalism and thermonuclear reaction rates; information on galactic chemical evolution; solar nucleosynthesis; nucleosynthesis of heavier elements through s-, r-, and p-processes;, and gamma-ray bursts.
Each chapter includes problem sets against which students may test their knowledge before moving ahead, and copius references are included to guide students to further study.
This book is intended for undergraduate and graduate students in astronomy and astrophysics. It is also an invaluable overview of the subject for researchers in nuclear astrophysics and related fields.